‘Historic step’ as census data on LGBT+ populations published for first time

More than a quarter of a million people in England and Wales have a different gender identity from their sex registered at birth, according to census data which includes LGBT+ population estimates for the first time.

Some 1.5 million people England and Wales identified with an LGB+ sexual orientation in the 2021 census – 3.2% of those aged 16 and over, figures show.

And 262,000 people said their gender identity was different from their sex registered at birth, the Office for National Statistics (ONS) said.

This represents 0.5% of the population aged 16 and over.

Local areas with highest proportion of LGB+ population in England & Wales at 2021 census
(PA Graphics)

The charity Stonewall described the publication of the figures as a “historic step forward” after more than two centuries of LGBT+ lives being “missing from the national record”.

Data from the 2021 census for England and Wales is being published in stages over two years.

It is the first time figures on sexual orientation and gender identity have been included, with people aged 16 and over asked to provide this information on a voluntary basis.

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Respondents aged 16 and over were able to request an individual access code allowing them to fill in the census separately to the rest of their household.

Overall, 45.7 million (94.0% of the population aged 16 years) and over answered the question on gender identity, and 44.9 million people (92.5%) filled in the question on sexual orientation.

Some 45.4 million (93.5%) indicated that their gender identity was the same as their sex registered at birth.

Of the 262,000 people who said this was not the case, 118,000 did not provide further detail.

Some 48,000 (0.1% of the population aged 16 and over) identified as a trans man, and 48,000 (0.1%) identified as a trans woman, the ONS said.

A total of 30,000 identified as non-binary while a further 18,000 people wrote in a different gender identity.

Highest proportion of people with gender identity different from sex
(PA Graphics)

When asked about their sexual orientation, 43.4 million people (89.4% of the population aged 16 and over) identified as straight or heterosexual.

Some 748,000 (1.5%) described themselves as gay or lesbian, 624,000 (1.3%) as bisexual, and 165,000 (0.3%) selected “Other sexual orientation”.

Of those who selected the latter category, the most common responses included pansexual (112,000, 0.23%), asexual (28,000, 0.06%), and queer (15,000, 0.03%).

ONS director Jen Woolford said the first census estimates were “crucial”, adding: “They will ensure decision-makers have the best information so they can better understand the extent and nature of disadvantage which people may be experiencing in terms of educational outcomes, health, employment and housing.”

London was the region within England with the highest percentage of people who said their gender identity was different from their sex registered at birth – (0.91%).

The capital also had higher proportions of people identifying as trans men (0.16%) and trans women (0.16%) when compared with the rest of England and Wales.

It was also the region with the highest proportion of people who identified with an LGB+ orientation (4.3%) while the local authority with the highest such percentage was Brighton and Hove (10.7%).

Stonewall chief executive Nancy Kelley said: “For the past two centuries of data gathering through our national census, LGBTQ+ people have been invisible, with the stories of our communities, our diversity and our lives missing from the national record.

“Today is a historic step forward after decades of Stonewall campaigning to record sexual orientation and gender identity in the census, finally painting an accurate picture of the diverse ‘Rainbow Britain’ that we now live in, where more and more of us are proud to be who we are.”

The LGBT Foundation said it “cautiously welcomes” the data, saying it is a “huge first step in making LGBTQ+ people feel included” but “remains incomplete”.

The charity said: “Unfortunately, there are a range of reasons why people won’t feel able to disclose their sexual orientation or gender identity.

“The historic and ongoing attitudes towards LGBTQ+ communities, particularly trans and non-binary people, will stop many from feeling safe to provide this information.

“Meanwhile, many LGBTQ+ people are living within households and environments where they are unable to be open about their gender identity, sexual orientation and trans identity.

“As such it will be years before we get an accurate picture, informed by figures from, and comparison with, future surveys.”

The ONS has published previous LGB population estimates but Friday marks the first time census data has included information on people’s sexual orientation.

The ONS Annual Population Survey estimated that 3.1% of adults aged 16 and over in the UK identified as LGB in 2020.

Younger ages were most likely to identify as LGB, with 8.0% of 16-24-year-olds doing so in 2020, up from 6.6% in 2019 and a jump from 4.1% in 2016

Further census figures showing sexual orientation by age and by sex will be published on January 25.

In 2018 in a consultation on reforming the Gender Recognition Act, the Government said the exact number of transgender people in the UK was not known, estimating it to stand at between 200,000-500,000 people.